Luke Kuechly, Lavonte David and Andre Branch are just a few of the rookies that are tabbed to step right in and play significant roles on their respective NFL teams. They will be fantasy relevant from the word go, will be high on fantasy draft boards, and deservedly so. They are the cream of the crop, dynasty ‘must drafts’ and capable of helping out Individual Defensive Player (IDP) teams in redraft formats as well. That’s not who we are dealing with in this article. Nope, we are going to head down the depth charts and mine for some under-the-radar rookies who may just end up helping fantasy owners from deep in the draft. These are a few players that have made a name for themselves in organized team activities and preseason action to date, looking to unseat the incumbents and make their way onto the field.
Jayron Hosley, CB, New York Giants:
The Hosley hype machine has hit a bump in the road as he is currently recovering from a turf toe problem and sitting out valuable practice time. While the injury has been stated to be of the day-to-day variety, it is unfortunate timing and he may lose some of the momentum he had built thus far in training camp. The Giants selected Hosley in the third round last April out of Virginia Tech. He has been turning heads in training camp and preseason action, actually intercepting a Mark Sanchez pass and returning it 77 yards for a touchdown and added a sack in the Giants’ first preseason game against Jacksonville.
Hosley has been playing both outside and slot cornerback in practice and was set up to see some time at nickel back before the toe injury sidelined him. He is a bit undersized but plays hard with intensity, physicality, does not shy away from helping out in run-defense and possesses solid tackling skills. The recent high-ankle sprain suffered by Prince Amukamara also opens the door for the rookie to see more snaps, providing he is able to get back on the field. The Giants are also going to take a look at Hosly as a punt returner, and that increases his fantasy value in leagues that also count individual return yards in their scoring.
New York is thin at the cornerback position with the injuries to Amukamara and Terrell Thomas, so the sooner Hosley can throw his name back into the ring for playing time the better, as the Giants will now be lining up either Bruce Johnson or Michael Coe with veteran Corey Webster in the defensive backfield. Hosley has the chance to step in and become fantasy relevant as long as the toe problem is as minor as advertised and he can get back into the mix for a spot in the Giants secondary. Monitor the health updates coming out of New York in the next week. If Hosley is back at practice, he is a late-round, deep sleeper option in IDP fantasy drafts.
Miles Burris, OLB, Oakland:
I mentioned Burris in the ‘Fantasy Handcuffs’ article and he also deserves some love as a rookie sleeper option. Drafted in the fourth round out of San Diego State, it was believed that Burris would compete for the strong side LB position for the Raiders, while being utilized mainly as a pass rushing specialist early in his career. Not really a natural pass rusher, Burris uses his above-average speed, power and intensity to create pressure off the edge. The kid has extremely high football intelligence and the capability to play all three linebacker positions and is tough as nails. Burris could use some improvement on his coverage skills, though. He does have the athleticism to be an effective player when called upon to drop into coverage, but his strength lies in getting after the quarterback and the Raiders should scheme to keep him moving up the field as opposed to dropping back. Aaron Curry is currently dealing with knee issues and continues his descent as a fantasy- as well as a NFL-caliber option in Oakland. The latest rumors are that Curry will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list in Oakland, and that is more positive news for Burris. His name continues to climb in fantasy stature as he may have already locked up the starting weak side linebacker position in Oakland.
Jared Crick, DE, Houston:
Heading into his senior season at Nebraska, Crick was grading out as a possible late first, early second round draft option for 2012. A torn pectoral muscle that severely limited his playing time and performance saw him slip to the fourth round where Houston selected him with the 126th overall pick. The misfortune that Crick suffered his senior season could actually be a blessing in disguise as he has landed on a team where his skill set looks to be an excellent fit. At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Crick is solid at the point of attack, a relentless pass rusher with a non-stop motor who racked up 20 sacks during his college career.
In the 3-4 defensive alignments that Wade Phillips employs, Crick is an immediate addition to the defensive line rotation and looks to be the heir apparent to Antonio Smith. As a rookie, he will be battling fourth-year player Tim Jamison to be the No. 3 defensive linemen for the Texans. He has the size and strength to kick inside and that will enhance his chances to garner more snaps. As things stand right now, Crick is an option to spell J.J. Watt for a few plays per game and he has the upside to eventually be the defensive end to line up opposite Watt for Houston. Keep his name in mind come fantasy draft day, especially in dynasty formats, and should Smith or Watt miss any time due to injury, his fantasy value increases greatly. The Texans got themselves a potential steal in the fourth round and fantasy owners will have the same opportunity to get Crick at an excellent average draft position late in their drafts as well.